AS we wave goodbye to the national hunt season and welcome our flat friends back to the fray, we must momentarily take stock of what happened on the track last week.
Of the 40 races run at the Punchestown Festival, 19 were won by Willie Mullins. There were 12 Grade 1’s run at during the week of which Mullins took home nine top-level prizes. Paul Townend rode like a champion despite a fractured foot, Honeysuckle won her third Champion Hurdle of the season despite performing much below her best and British trainers bagged four winners across the five days – just one less than they managed at Cheltenham in March!
Over the weekend, we turned our attention to Newmarket for the Guineas where Irish trained horses once again dominated the top prizes. Jim Bolger became the oldest trainer to win the coveted Qipco 2,000 Guineas with Poetic Flare, steered by his son-in-law and consummate professional Kevin Manning. Having bred the winner, his mother (Maria Lee), his father (Dawn Approach) and his grandmother (Elida), it’s fair to say that Jim Bolger is in a league of his own when it comes to developing thoroughbreds.
On Sunday, Aidan O’Brien and Frankie Dettori combined to winning effect with Mother Earth who put her juvenile experience to good use in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas. Dettori was visibly ecstatic after riding a classic winner at 50 years of age but, one would imagine that watching on from Ballydoyle was a very relieved Aidan O’Brien who must have been disappointed with his trio of colts just 24 hours previous. The rollercoaster of racing!
So then, Irish horses dominated the 2020/21 National Hunt season and these early indicators suggest that we can expect something similar from our flat comrades this summer!
Jessica Harrington enjoyed a typically successful Punchestown from small numerical representation and also went close at Newmarket courtesy of Lucky Vega finishing a close third to Poetic Flare. I was at the Curragh on Monday where she produced No Speak Alexander to win the Athasi Stakes on seasonal debut, in turn earning herself a crack at the 1,000 Guineas on May 23rd at the same track.
Ace Aussie won his maiden over seven furlongs at Cork in September 2020 before disappointing in the Beresford Stakes behind High Definition on his final run as a juvenile. His reappearance in the Leopardstown Guineas Trial was far from disappointing as he finished strongly to nab second behind Poetic Flare over a distance that looked far too short – the form doesn’t look too shabby now!
This colt holds an entry for the Amethyst Stakes at Leopardstown this Sunday where he could potentially take on older horses but wherever he goes, keep an eye on him stepping up in distance. It might just prove profitable!
Talking of Derby prospects, Aidan O’Brien was due to take the wraps off his leading Epsom hopeful High Definition at Lingfield tomorrow afternoon but following some routine tests on Wednesday, the trainer opted not to declare for him for the Novibet Derby Trial Stakes.
Anthony Van Dyck won this race in 2019 before Epsom glory and this is always a race to watch closely with the Blue Ribband event in mind.
In the absence of High Definition, I like the profile of Martyn Meade’s Lone Eagle who finished fourth on his seasonal reappearance at Sandown a fortnight ago. Charlie Appleby’s Yibir re-opposes again tomorrow but Lone Eagle was the pick of these on juvenile form and could reverse the placings with that in mind.
This is a classic time of year and while Ballydoyle don’t fire their main bullet this weekend, they are never to be underestimated. They regularly have a plethora of Derby candidates at the beginning of every season but this spring has been dominated by Santa Barbara. Such was the hype surrounding the filly, that the colts have somewhat slipped under the radar.
That said, whatever wins tomorrow will be firmly on everyone’s Epsom radar!